The Story So Far...
Q Theatre formed in 1963 when actor Doreen Warburton gathered a group of five professional performers – Ben Gabriel, Edward Hepple, Robert McDarra, Terry McDermott and Walter Sullivan – to form a theatre company. Each actor contributed five pounds to establish the project.
The company launched the Q Theatre Group’s Lunch Hour Theatre on 2nd December, 1963 at the AMP Theatrette (a comfortable, air-conditioned 250 seater) at Circular Quay, and went on to present regular lunch-time theatre for many years. With a philosophy of bringing theatre to the people, Q Theatre also toured work across Australia as well as to venues and workplaces around NSW.
By the early 1970s Q Theatre’s repertoire had expanded to 67 plays, including eight new Australian works. After exploring the western suburbs of Sydney through performances at factories and building sites, while building audience engagement and skills through theatre workshops, Doreen decided to move the company to its western Sydney home in Penrith.
The move enabled Q Theatre to expand its facilities and repertoire – Penrith City Council provided a venue, the old Railway Institute Building, to convert into its new home as an intimate, thrust-stage theatre; and the company staged annual subscription seasons of challenging and provocative work to packed and enthusiastic houses. The company favoured the the hard-hitting style of writers such as Alan Ayckbourn, Sam Shepard and Joe Orton, but also explored locally evocative themes, with rock musicals such the successful ‘St Mary’s Kid’ of 1978 and the enduring nationalist appeal of ‘On Our Selection’ and ‘The Sentimental Bloke.’
By 1983 a new theatre – nearly twice the size of the original – was opened, enabling Q Theatre to celebrate its 20th birthday in new – and comparatively luxurious – digs; with modern seating, a bar and air-conditioning.
Doreen Warburton retired from her role in 1989 and in 1990 Helmut Bakaitis became the Artistic Director; a role he held for the next seven years, premiering many new Australian plays, both challenging and delighting audiences. Toni Collette made her first professional appearance in Q Theatre’s ‘Operation Holy Mountain’, in May of 1990.
With sands shifting in the arts funding landscape, the company reinvented itself again as part of the newly formed Railway Street Theatre Company – a merger between the New England Theatre Company and Q Theatre. While still housed in the venue named the Q Theatre, the new company had a strong emphasis on touring; and the venue eventually became run down, closing its doors in 2005 – to make way for a new home for Q Theatre: a purpose built space within the refurbished Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre.
Q Theatre re-launched with a specially commissioned musical by Tim Minchin and Kate Mulvany – Somewhere – the Magical Musical of Penrith – in Octoer 2005.
Over the years since then Q Theatre has continued to produce quality, engaging performance, development and education programs that are diverse, stimulating, and relevant to audiences. Q Theatre remains the pre-eminent performing arts company in the region and today continues to provide pathways and opportunities for emerging theatre makers; while developing work that provokes, excites and engages.
This is a potted history, if you’re keen on the finer details, there’s a Dictionary of Sydney entry all about Q Theatre here.